Making a film with your girlfriend in the lead and your friends and family as a supporting cast could be a potent mix of amateurish dream and pure self-indulgence, but filmmaker Nathan Silver did just that, and somehow managed to create a real little gem of a movie.
Elena (Kia Davis), a young and recently qualified nurse with no place to live, accepts a job as a live-in aide with the Akerman family so that she can help married couple Cindy (Cindy Silver) and Jim (Jim Chiros) take care for Jim’s elderly mother, Florence (Gert O’Connell). However, Elena quickly realises that the family is having troubles of its own, with her introduction making the tension even worse. But as things start to settle down and Elena finally begins to feel comfortable in the house, Cindy and Jim’s son Nathan (Nathan Silver) arrives back home and the dynamic shifts once again.
Made with a household camera, family members and what seems like the budget of packet of cigarettes, Exit Elena is, in every way, the definition of rough around the edges. Which might be too much for many audience members to look past, but if you do manage it, you will be treated to a fantastically subtle, comedic and touching slice of family life.
Exit Elena does suffer from being a bit slow and plodding at times, which for a film that is a mere 72 minutes long is strange, but I never found myself bored. It never attempts to wow you with the plot; it’s about family and the real life struggles a household may find themselves in. It’s also a fish out of water flick – Elena is thrust into this family and their home and forced to live a very awkward and slightly suffocating existence, leading to both funny and tragic moments.
For an unscripted film, Silver’s grasp of characterisation is really strong throughout. There’s no grandiose moments, no long monologues, it’s all done through awkward silence and shifting eye,s so the fact that these untrained actors delivered their performances so well is a real accomplishment. Actually, calling them performances doesn’t really feel right because they all feel so real as people.
What I think is most notable though is the incessant loneliness in the film and how that single emotion is basically the catalyst for all the main characters motivations. Cindy hires Elena so that she can have more time to live her life and free herself from the constant care of Florence, but it’s pretty evident that Cindy also just wanted somebody else in the house to talk to and befriend, as she tries to include her in everything she does. For Elena, it’s the feeling of being welcomed, of having a home and – although not really hers – a family. Her choices, especially one scene late on in the film involving a sleeping Nathan, is poignantly heart-breaking. The fact that for one second she thought about what she was going to do shows her hitting rock bottom, but it also makes the final shot of the film feel that much more perfect.
Exit Elena is a micro-budgeted treat and a film much deeper than its aesthetic might initially suggest. Although definitely not for everyone, Nathan Silver’s sophomore film shows that he has some real talent and is definitely a director to keep an eye on.